Breath In Jordan’s Akher Zapheer

Those of you who have visited or lived in Jordan, specifically Amman, know that it is generally a vast desert with random clusters of traffic. It looks very uniform, but is not homogenous at all in its demographics. One thing that does stand out, is that the single largest group of people is the youth. What this means in numbers is that 40% of the entire country’s population is YOUNG, between the ages of 12-30. 30 in Jordan is not quite considered independent adulthood yet, for most 20-somethings are transitioning through the process. And for some reason, in the last two decades, a LOT of these youth LOVE ROCK AND ROLL. It was a trend in Jordan ten years ago (when these statistics were gathered by the UN) and the lovers of rock and roll are now using those influences to innovate (rather than mimic) their own style.

I came across on YouTube, and perhaps touched by Basem’s longing voice and lyrics. They aren’t kids. The song is called Akherto Lahen Hazeen (translated: In The End, A Sad Melody, or His Ending is a Sad Melody, you get the idea) and observes a young scowling man and a young elated woman wake up in the morning, in separate houses, and takes the viewer on a play by play of their preparations that morning. She cannot control the smile on her face as she puts on her white dress, her veil, her hairdo, her makeup, and the young man never breaks scowling character. You gotta watch it, I won’t spoil the mini-film. There is something both new and nostalgic about their sound. Someone compared them to Mashrou’ Leila (though I disagree). For some reason I thought of Kurt Kobain. Wait for their second single, even their full album to decide. They are way more punk and grunge than this video lets you believe.

Scroll to the end to watch their video.

While their story unfolds, Akher Zapheer is performing the soundtrack to a (very well-made and artsy) music video, where you can feel (and see) the band’s relationship with their instruments and their music. It feels like making music is natural to them and they are finding their voice together. It didn’t feel like they were trying to portray a persona or mimick any other style. They are rockers singing in Arabic, and it’s not cheesy wannabe rock. (I just shuddered when I remembered this greasy haired yet well-groomed Lebanese singer yelling “Hayda Mish Ana” in a music video. Heard of it? No comment. Just a smirk) I think this Akher Zapheer video on its own made me hit the “Like” button and get in touch with them for an interview, and months later (they are super busy already) I finally managed a quick one (that’s what she said?) with Basem, the vocalist. Akher Zapheer is still a mystery. They sing for an escape from the routine of living in Amman, and if they continue to hone in on their unaffected, unpretentious style, they will BE the escape they seek. You can see for yourself if you go to their website that they have one song posted, one music video, and nothing else besides the lyrics and an introduction to the members. That is the only visual we’ve got until their album comes out soon. Can’t wait to hear it!

First, an introduction!

Akher Zapheer is:

Basem Sayej: Vocals/ Lead Guitar

Salem Dallal: Rhythm Guitar

Kayed Qunibi: Drums

Yazan Risheq: Bass Guitar

Akher Zapheer - Basem, Salem, Kayed, Yazan

Noha: Tell us the story of your union and how Akher Zapheer was born. Akher Zapheer was formed in 2007 , as any band, Basem and Salem are childhood friends and went to music school together, composed songs together and decided to form the band , Kayed joined as a drummer and Yazan is the latest member in the band each member put his own influence in the material that is introduced through Arabic lyrics .

Noha: The basics first. Your influences?

Basem: Nirvana , Radiohead , Muse

Salem : Nirvana, Placebo, Radiohead

Kayed : Tool, Deftones

Yazan :Muse, Metallica

Noha: One of our partners thought you sounded a little like Mashrou’ Leila but I think he means more the ‘genre’ than the actual sound. What genre do you believe you fall into?  Well we don’t believe we sound like them, nor that they sound like any other band. We like them very much, though. However, in musical production and instrumentation… it’s like comparing the Gorillaz to Nirvana. I think the comparison is probably based on the idea of an Arab band using their childhood influences from western alt/punk/new wave/ hardcore …etc. ROCK. Writing an original song, a set and performing it, is new to people here thus this generalization occurs. But if it helps clarify, we believe we fall under Indie/Punk/Grunge Arabic rock.

Noha: Do you believe that a new genre has been born… One that voices and frequents love (unrequited or not), life amidst political upheaval, as so on… To an extent, yes. But I’m not sure of continuity of such a genre, because the music scene and the acceptance level of the audience is a hard wall to infiltrate. However, yes, it [has been] born and it’s out there and it’s the same generation slice who was never inspired by an existing scene in their region, and had to express themselves through western musical idols, through their daily life, sometimes through Arabic outspoken words in songs they composed in their bedrooms about love, life and politics. That doesn’t mean we are dissing the Arabic scene, all respect is held in our heart for Abdel Haleem, Um Kalthoum, Mohammad Muneer, Ziad Rahbani, etc. There is a song in the album that declares how inferior we feel we are compared to those legends 

Noha: How’s it going with the new album? We’re waiting! The album is 99% ready, we are just putting the final touches (finalizing the album design, printing … etc). The expected date of release is sometime in March… April maximum. But the songs are ready and we have them on our iPods 

Noha: Has the regional uprising affected your lives in Jordan in any way? Honestly, it has no direct effect on the life in Jordan, though more protests are being held in the streets everyday. Though all of them are about living expenses and low salaries, nothing major like Egypt or Syria. As far as the relationship of the music to the political situations, our old material (which was written before all the fuss of the revolutions) has a more political blend than the newest material. We believe that the political aspect of our new Arabic age is being exploited by local independent artist, so it’s a trend that we decided not to follow just for the sake of writing a song, or just because the area is unstable. As a song writer I believe my political views have always been the same. If a song is written about that now it would be a cliché.

Noha: Singing in Arabic – is it because you’re more comfortable with Arabic or is it part of your goal to keep Arabic language from getting lost in pop culture? Well, I used to sing in English through my whole musical upbringing. But the use of Arabic was decided because we are Arabs, our target audiences are Arabs, and we are proud of it. And it’s totally true that the Arabic language must be used more in pop culture and we hope we can help regarding this issue. As a vocalist I have to admit it’s harder to sing in Arabic.

Noha: What kind of obstacles have you faced trying to form a band and record songs and videos in Jordan? It’s not easy anywhere but what’s it like in Amman? Is that part of why you want to go b3eed 3an Amman? (listen to the song for these lyrics where Basem sings to be taken away from Amman, far away) The major problem we faced as a band in Amman is finding a practice place, especially when neighbors would rather hear car horns in the street than a guitar playing. Moreover, playing live is challenging in two aspects. First, it’s hard with loud guitar distortion and drum grooves to play in small venues since people don’t expect such huge amount of energy transposing in a small crowded place. We don’t have places in Amman where bands can play regularly and some people still have a low tolerance for Arabic rock. The second aspect is the sound setup of any venue, if you want to prepare a good show you need to pay a lot from your pocket to have a decent sound otherwise you are just pure noise. The above is just a slice of the reasons to go “b3eed 3an 3amman” [winks]. The major idea is (as most of the youth would agree) that there’s nothing much to do in Amman, along with the difficult financial/emotional/political conditions our generation faces, many just escape through a ride outside the borders of Amman, with a friend and a smoke. However, you always have to go back and continue 🙂 that’s why its akherto lahen hazeen.

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